At 6-7, Virginia’s only hope for avoiding its first absence from the NCAA tournament since 2004 is upsetting No. 4 Maryland this Friday and then disposing of either No. 1 Duke or No. 2 North Carolina on Sunday to capture the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
The Cavaliers figure to be downright ornery as they fight for their postseason lives, and coach John Tillman acknowledged that he is worried about the Terps (9-2) matching their opponent’s intensity at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C.
“That’s certainly a concern,” he said during his weekly conference call Tuesday. “I’ve said it before and there’s a saying that we have all the time. The hungry dog seems to hunt best. When we’ve had that sense of urgency, we seemed to have played better in different areas. So that is a concern, knowing what’s at stake for them. We’ve been very candid in terms of our discussions with our guys. We try to be open and honest and just be very real with our guys and be transparent. We can’t really control what’s happening on the outside. Yet, we’ve got to understand that if your opponent is going to come with that sense of urgency, if you don’t match that urgency and focus and attention, you’re putting yourself behind the 8-ball. We’ve got to be aware of that.”
If Maryland needs any reminders of meeting an opponent with nothing to lose, all the team has to do is replay its 7-4 loss to then-No. 15 Johns Hopkins on April 13. At that time, the Blue Jays were 6-4 and in desperate need of a victory.
The Terps struggled mightily in the setback, and Johns Hopkins got a potentially season-turning win. Tillman mentioned that loss during his conference call.
“In a season, there are a lot of teachable moments, and there are a lot of learned experiences that you can have, and we experienced that two weeks ago with a team that came in,” he said. “I didn’t think our effort was necessarily poor, but I do think a few weeks ago, our opponent had excellent urgency and provided great effort and did a really good job. Those are the things we’re going to have to understand, that this is the environment we are playing in and if there’s a huge discrepancy, it’s going to be very difficult for us to come out on the winning end.”
Maryland might want to borrow a page from the Blue Jays’ showing against Virginia when Johns Hopkins scored 11 of the first 12 goals en route to a 15-8 thumping on March 23. Tillman is hoping for a similar start against the Cavaliers.
“I think we would always prefer getting off to a fast start,” he said. “I think most coaches would agree with that. Yet, you just don’t know. You realize that even if you get off to a fast start in games like these, the other team is going to make a run. Even with us on Saturday [in an 8-7 decision against No. 14 Yale], we were up and then Yale had to come back and then we had to come back. We know that regardless, there will be a point in time of the game where one team will have some momentum and then you’ve got to fight them off and hope you respond and vice versa.”Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times